Handbell choirs not only hold a particularly special place in the musical history of church and holiday music, they're a great way for young musicians to master skills of both ear-training and ensemble awareness. However, the mastery and handling of handbells can be a challenging thing to teach children, a subject requiring a specialized approach.
Get a set of children's handbells, if working with children under 10 years. These bells are made to be more durable than professional handbells and are lighter weight for smaller hands and arms to handle. They're also brightly colored, making it easier for children to distinguish one from another. Generally available in either an eight note major scale set or a 13 note chromatic set, these bells are generally sold in toy stores, especially those that carry a good selection of music toys.
Teach safe handling first. If working with older children and using professional bells, teach them the importance of wearing gloves and handling the bells securely and carefully.
Let children practice and play in rotating small groups with few bells. If teaching a large group, divide the group into sections of three to six children and take turns, allowing the children who aren't playing to learn by observing. This method not only maximizes the experience for the children (since they will have more attention from their instructor while playing), it minimizes the chances of a mishap.
Play simple tunes that don't require sheet music. Being a member of a handbell chorus requires an acute awareness of the other members, so start with this before introducing sheet music.
Mix adult players with children. Let children play side-by-side with experienced adult players who can guide them
Lauren Vork has been a writer for 20 years, writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in "The Lovelorn" online magazine and thecvstore.net. Vork holds a bachelor's degree in music performance from St. Olaf College.